Studies based on the analysis of housekeeping genes indicate that Escherichia coli and all Shigella species, except for Shigella boydii type 13, belong to a single species. This study analysed the phenotypic and genotypic characteristics of 23 E. coli strains isolated in different countries from faecal specimens taken from children with diarrhoea. Strains were identified using the VITEK system and typed with rabbit sera obtained against 186 somatic and 53 flagellar E. coli antigens and against 45 Shigella somatic antigens. Biochemical analysis of these strains showed a typical E. coli profile with a defined reaction against both E. coli O179 and S. boydii 16 somatic antisera. Agglutination assays for flagellar antigens showed a response against H2 in 7 (30 %) strains, H10 in 2 (9%) strains, H32 in 12 (52 %) strains and H34 in 2 (9%) strains, demonstrating 4 serotypes associated with this new somatic antigen 64474. A serum against one of these E. coli strains (64474) was prepared. Absorption assays of S. boydii 16 and E. coli 64474 antisera with E. coli O179 antigen removed the agglutination response against this O179 antigen completely, while the agglutination titres against both S. boydii 16 and E. coli 64474 remained the same. Four (17 %) E. coli strains showed antimicrobial resistance to piperacillin only, one (4 %) to piperacillin and trimethoprim/ sulfamethoxazole, one (4 %) to ciprofloxacin, nitrofurantoin and piperacillin, and two (9 %) strains were resistant to ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, ofloxacin, piperacillin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. With regards to PCR assays, one (4 %) of the strains was positive for Shigella gene ipaH, one (4 %) for ipaA, two (9 %) for ipaB, one (4 %) for ipaD, two (9 %) for sepA and three (13 %) for ospF. The rfb gene cluster in the E. coli strains was analysed by RFLP and compared with the gene cluster obtained from S. boydii 16. The rfb-RFLP patterns for all 23 E. coli strains were similar to those obtained for S. boydii 16. The results from PCR tests to detect rfb genes wzx (encoding O unit flippase) and wzy (encoding polymerase) belonging to a cluster related to the biosynthesis of the S. boydii 16-specific O antigen were positive in 21 (91 %) and 22 (96 %) of the strains, respectively. PCR assays to detect E. coli virulence genes were also performed. These assays detected enterotoxigenic E. coli genes ltA1 in 12 of the strains (52 %), st1a in 4 (17 %), cfa1 in 6 (26 %), cs1 in 1 (4 %), cs3 in 3 (13 %), cs13 in 9 (39 %) and cs14 in 5 (22 %) of the strains. Results from the PFGE analyses confirmed the wide geographical distribution of these strains suggesting that 64474 : H2, 64474 : H10, 64474 : H32 and 64474 : H34 are new serotypes of E. coli strains with a defined virulence capacity, and share a common O antigen with S. boydii 16.